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MEMS Explosion

By Rakesh Kumar
The MEMS market is set to explode. By 2017 the market is expected to be worth $12.2 billion, a 50% increase from 2011, according to IHS iSuppli. Driving this growth will be the continued usage of MEMs devices for consumer applications, such as smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and cameras. Additionally, new products such as silicon timing devices, tunable capacitors for antennas, autofocus actuators and pico-projectors also are emerging as market drivers.

In 2011, GlobalFoundries laid the basis for our work in MEMS technology by qualifying products for our established customers and creating new customer relationships for the manufacturing of their products. Check out our previous post to learn more about the development of our MEMS technology in 2011.

We took the opportunity to ramp up our MEMS products in 2012. We observed that some of the unique MEMS tools on the market still lacked a level of ruggedness or maturity. To resolve that issue, we worked with our tool supplier to make improvements and optimize MEMS technology for large volume manufacturing. In 2012, we also were able to provide our customers with products for final reliability qualifications with very high yields.

The majority of MEMS devices require some degree of customization and standardized platforms may not be possible for all kinds of devices. Therefore, our initial focus was to develop key module and integration capabilities that would allow us to provide some form of reproducible and reusable building blocks for various MEMS devices. Some examples of such building blocks include cavity SOI wafers, poly TSV for interconnects, and hermetic sealing for wafer-level encapsulation. In addition to these building blocks, we are working with A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore to develop some platform technologies for specific applications as part of their MEMS consortium.

We currently are working on new processes and products that are on schedule for manufacturing by the third and fourth quarter of this year. Many integrated device manufacturers (IDMs) and fabless companies have started process development with GlobalFoundries. It is one of our biggest achievements that we have not only satisfied our customers, but also attracted potential new customers because of our capabilities and success.

Looking ahead, MEMS companies only can be successful if they offer a full solution to the end customer from design to application development, firmware, software, etc. In the past, IDMs fulfilled this role; however, fabless companies now are beginning to meet the integration requirements, either by themselves or in partnerships with companies. Thus, we will begin to see fabless companies posing a big challenge to IDMs. The challenge will be the ability to get suitable MEMS foundries that can provide development support, shorter time to market and can build the capacity required to meet the demands of the consumer market.

We see an important role for foundries to play in order for the market to meet that challenge. We’re capable of using our processes to enable new product development, provide a fast ramp to production and offer competitive costs of manufacturing. We envision taking the role of a single supplier to provide the complete manufacturing solution that will allow our customers to focus on product design, firmware, applications and system level support. We can achieve this by not only offering device fabrication services, but also extending it to complete back end solutions in partnership with OSAT houses. With the careful selection of products and partners, we can create a pipeline of products that can provide a stiff competition to IDMs.

Throughout 2013, our focus will be on ramping up the production of MEMS significantly for the qualified products. We also plan to simultaneously continue our efforts to qualify more customer products. We see a number of challenges and growth opportunities in MEMS development, including the recent wave of MEMS sensors in relation to consumer applications areas. However, with increasing awareness of MEMS sensors and actuators and decreasing costs of system/subsystems use of MEMS devices, the MEMS market will grow significantly for automotive, industrial, safety/security and healthcare applications. With continued progress in the field, we hope to see motion sensor adoption in systems, tools which can detect variations for maintenance, energy harvester and bio-MEMS. 2013 will be another exciting year for MEMs and we look forward to the ride.

—Rakesh Kumar is senior director of the MEMS program at GlobalFoundries.

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